Grammy-nominated blue-eyed neo-soul singer Mayer Hawthorne has teamed up with hip-hop producer Jake One to produce a hark-back to eighties funk with their debut self-titled album Tuxedo. The album itself is produced by TFSR favourite John Morales, who, according to Hawthorne “made me spaghetti and everything”. Morales is, for those who do not know, is a pioneer of mixing and DJing, and reaching out to him to mix this album is a stroke of genius.
The album sounds like an unreleased album from the days of eighties groove, and that’s no bad thing; it sounds perfect alongside classics from The Whispers, Chic and Zapp, and it’s wonderful to have artists taking inspiration from this often overlooked period of soul and funk music. The opening track, ‘Lost Lover’, is a delicious mid-tempo groove; produced exquisitely, its infectious sound gets the album off to a great start.
The rest of the album fits a similar mold, not that this is a bad thing. ‘R U Ready’ features some delightful synth work, combined with a catchy lyric with another irresistible groove. Similarly, ‘Watch The Dance’ features another light, pop-orientated lyric alongside another funky track, with synths that the Zapp Band would be proud of. ‘Two Wrongs’ slows the tempo of the album right down; it is a beautiful neo-soul ballad, and with Hawthorne on vocals featuring some tight backing vocals it’s likely to become one of the standout tracks on the album.
‘Tuxedo Groove’, an instrumental, falls somewhat flat: it features an Ernie Isley style guitar solo, but the opening bars feature some synths and sounds that belong in the eighties and ought to remain there. ‘The Right Time’ continues the eighties groove magically; certainly, the lyrics aren’t particularly clever, but eighties soul – apart from maybe Luther –isn’t best known for it’s clever lyrics as sixties and seventies soul music is. In fact, that aside, ‘The Right Time’ is an incredibly catchy song that is simply infectious upon first hearing it.
Overall, Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One have delivered a brilliant album in Tuxedo: whilst neo-soul today idolizes the sixties and early seventies, and perhaps rightly so, much great soul music was made in the eighties and the pair understand that. Getting John Morales to mix the album is an inspired choice. Let’s hope the pair reconvene again, and soon.